HOUSTON, TX, USA: As the morning mist softened the bright sun rays, thousands of people gathered at India House on Saturday, July 16, 2011 to celebrate Lord Jagannath’s Annual Chariot Festival, popularly known as Rath Yatra.
Houston Rath Yatra was organized by Orissa Culture Center (OCC) partnered with ISKCON and joined by Sita Ram Foundation and other similar minded organizations of greater Houston. “The event’s success was largely due to the countless hours of planning and hard work by all the volunteers who worked tirelessly with a mission of universal brotherhood and love for Lord Jagannath”, Dr. Aditya Samal, President of OCC said.
The Lords were dressed up with Orissan finery, fresh flowers and tons of Tulsi while their mandap was decorated with striking Pipli- appliqué lampshades and wall hangings(knows as Chandua) with a golden backdrop. The columns of majestic India House were wrapped with hand woven Bomkai and Pasapalli saris. The pots of auspicious banana plants and tulsi reflected the simple Orissan culture which is intertwined with Jagannath culture.
Pahandi Bije (the procession of Lords getting out of Sanctum Sanctorum to proceed to Chariot) was a sight to behold. The women carried Devi Subhadra, while Lord Balabhadra followed Sudarshan and Lord Jagannath was the last one to arrive at the Chariot.
Swapan Dhairyawan of ICC who was the ceremonial king for the occasion was very happy to be of Lord’s ‘Seva’. When asked about his experience he replied, “The day I was requested to do the role of Chheraa Pahanra I knew it was something really special and this ‘seva’ I absolutely could not refuse. On the day of the event it turned out to be incredibly special (though ceremonial) and moreover it has created an impression on my four year daughter which would cherish for a long time to come. This is what culture is; it imbibes and embodies for generations to come from small & miniscule things which we do in our everyday life. This is what Hindu dharma, which is a way of life exemplifies too.” It was a beautiful experience for most of the people who participated in Chariot pulling. The 22 feet high chariot rolled on to the street of Bellfort and steered back by devotees to the courtyard of India House amidst kirtan, dancing, conch and bells. For the first time in Houston Rath Yatra history, the organizers had decided to do the cultural program outdoors which worked out great! The vastness of India House with Lords on the Chariot witnessing, provided a kind of openness that families loved to enjoy. With kids enjoying moon walk, balloon artist or clown and parents relishing plates of chatpata food, the Rath Yatra certainly provided the kind of opportunity that families would love to look forward to every year!
People were for real treat when Guru Nityananda Das arrived on stage. The audience was totally under his spell, so much so, one could hear a pin drop when the music stopped due to a technical snag. Within seconds as music came back, people were in tears seeing the dancer’s absolutely stunning performance.
Rightfully, the MC for the evening, Upali Nanda (herself an accomplished Odissi dancer) said, “let me know if anyone here whose eyes are dry…”. Guru Nityananda Das and Guru Bijaya Das performance in both the compositions, ‘Priya Sakha’ and ‘Pangu Langhayate Giri’ will be remembered by Houston audience for years to come.
The Pahandi (Procession) was preceded by a short speech by Guruji Chandrabhanu Satpathy, an ardent devotee of Shiridi Sai Baba. “It was certainly the most organized among all the functions I attended in the USA during this session. May Shri Sai bless you all”, he opined.
Similar comments were echoed by Filmmaker Ghanasyam Mahapatra, whose 1973 movie ‘Kanakalata’ which had won laurels and awards in early seventies, was specially screened at Rath Yatra this year only for Houston art and cinema loving audience. The filmmaker had accepted Houstonians’ invitation to be present at the screening to talk about the making of the movie.
The devotees also had prepared 56 different kinds of dishes that the Lords said to have special affinity (It’s to be noted here that the kitchen in Puri Temple is the largest community kitchen in the whole world). It was a beautiful feeling to see devotees offering arati in a ‘Thali’ decorated with petals, with diya, agarbati and Lord Jagannath’s favorite snack ‘khaja’.
No Rath Yatra would be complete without Lord Jagannath listening to his favorite music, the lyrical bhajans.The Lords were treated with their favorite bhajans by Abhas Mishra, Swayamprava Mishra, Soumya Rege, Madhuri Dasmohapatra, Surath Rath and Atashu Nayak. Also, the sankirtan organized by Namadwar was perfect for the occasion.
With the nice breeze blowing and the beautiful moon rising slowly on western sky, the aura definitely created a serene effect. With the volunteers of ISKCON were busy serving dinners, while adults and children found chatting about the awesome day they just had, young volunteers were reminding them to pick up their copy of souvenir, rightfully named as ‘Nandighosa’, Lord Jagannath’s Chariot!